Polis state of the state 1

Gov. Jared Polis delivers his State of the State address on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Denver, Colo.

Soaring prices of commodities and spiking criminality took center stage at the state Capitol in Denver on Thursday, when Gov. Jared Polis outlined an ambitious agenda to lift the economic burden on Coloradans, keep them safe from violence and signaled the start of the campaign to pass what could become the state's most expensive spending plan to date. 

Polis, who is in the final year of his term and is seeking reelection, pledged to cut taxes, reduce or waive fees, and eliminate government-imposed financial barriers to starting a business.

“We must double down on our promise to help every business and family succeed. That means taking less of your hard-earned money in fees and taxes, and putting more in your pockets and paychecks,” he told members of the Colorado General Assembly.

And amplifying the message that Democratic legislative leaders delivered yesterday at the opening of the 2022 session, Polis promised to “use every single tool at our disposal to save hardworking Coloradans the money you need to live the life you want.”

"The Democrats are working very quickly to delay implementation of lots of new fees that they created just last year," Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert told Colorado Politics. 

"I hope that voters pay attention to that," he added.

Last session, for example, Polis signed into law a $5.4 billion, 10-year plan to build out Colorado's roads and bridges, create more electric vehicle charging stations, boost mass transit and mitigate air pollution. The program relies on a raft of new charges that will come out of Coloradans' pockets, including a road usage fee that would ratchet up annually over 10 years to a maximum of 8 cents, 6.9 cents for retail deliveries and 5.3 cents for each delivery, to support a fund to transition government fleets to electric vehicles.

On Monday, when Democrats unveiled the majority agenda, Polis proposed delaying the gas tax increase, which, under SB 21-260, would be adjusted annually for inflation. "Now is not the time" to increase the gas tax, he said, adding, "Let's show people relief at the pump."

In his state of the state address, Polis said he wants to reduce the unemployment insurance and the paid family and medical leave premiums, and make it free for Coloradans to start a business. He also wants to reduce vehicle registration fees and prevent increases in driver's license fees.    

To drive home his point, Polis channeled his inner Paul Simon, launching into his own version of the legendary songwriter's "50 Ways" and modifying the lyrics to match his message. 

“Just cut the tax, Max," the governor rhymed. "Lower the rate, Nate; you don’t need to pay more, Thor; just send your kids for free (to preschool and kindergarten)."

"Republicans have been there all the time," Holbert replied. 

The governor delivered his fourth State of the State address at a time of palpable unease. Coloradans have endured two years of a global pandemic, and while there are signs that it is peaking and that perhaps cases might subside by February, COVID-19 continues to significantly strain the health care system, not to mention hammer schools, several of which have had to shift to remote learning as staffers called in sick.

While his immediate audience was the legislature, the governor also sought to soothe the public's anxieties, knowing Coloradans face soaring energy bills this winter, the worst inflation rate hike in 40 years and a sense that crime is on the rise.

He spoke just a few days after a grass fire tore through a thousand homes, forced the evacuation of 35,000 people and claimed at least one life in Boulder County.  

Indeed, Polis opened his speech by acknowledging the direst crisis Coloradans have endured over the past two years — a shape-shifting virus that has killed more than 10,000 residents — and a host of maladies, notably violence and disasters.

He asked for a moment of silence, his tone somber, cognizant of the frailties of life. 

He also strove to inject a sense of optimism as crisis after crisis washed over Colorado, at times invoking the best of humanity and noting that people, instead of turning their backs, have comforted their fellows in moments of calamity and despair.

“This is the Colorado spirit. These men and women define who we are as a people, and represent the very best of us," he said. "There are so many other stories like theirs, of everyday people doing their best and giving everything to protect our Colorado.”

But even as he projected a sense of optimism about the future, the governor acknowledged the hard realities on the ground, notably rising criminality.

"Some Coloradans are most impacted by the health risks of COVID-19; others are most pained by the rising cost of everyday items, disruptions to our children’s education, or the increase of crime in the communities we call home," Polis said, pledging to put forth a public safety plan that "builds on historic legislation of years past [and] gives much-needed support and funding to local law enforcement, while also investing in community-based approaches and organizations that can help prevent violent crime from occurring in the first place."

It's the same approach that House Speaker Alec Garnett espoused yesterday, arguing that the tough-on-crime policies that sent more and more people to prisons haven’t worked.

Republicans, in turn, offered a counter narrative, blaming the policies enacted by Polis and his allies in the legislature and arguing they've made the matter worse.

“Even while making claims to be getting tough on crime, they have passed, and the governor has signed, legislation making Colorado less safe,” McKean said yesterday. “It is no wonder why criminals are able to get away with so much today.”

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